FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MOST EXTENSIVE ASSESSMENT OF GLOBAL DEEP-SEA EXPLORATION
CAPABILITIES FINDS WIDESPREAD CAPACITY INEQUITIES
The 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment included 186 countries and territories and investigated access to vessels, deep submergence vehicles, data analysis tools, and expertise.
(Saunderstown, RI — Sept 15, 2022) On September 12, 2022, the Ocean Discovery League (ODL)—led by oceanographer and National Geographic deep-sea explorer Dr. Katy Croff Bell—released the results of the first Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment (GDSCA), the most extensive study of its kind ever conducted.
The 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment is a baseline assessment of the technical and human capacity for deep-sea exploration and research in every coastal area with deep ocean worldwide. This assessment, an official activity of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, presents global and regional results related to organizational infrastructure, technical capacity, accessibility to deep-sea tools, satisfaction with those tools, and the most significant deep-sea challenges and opportunities each region faces.
The results demonstrate the unique regional and subregional challenges and opportunities facing deep-sea research and exploration in each location.
"Ocean exploration is still a significant perpetrator of colonial science because the current tools are expensive, inefficient, and inaccessible," said Dr. Bell. "We need to create inclusive tools, training, and access that open this area of exploration up to everyone worldwide. Equity must be at the core of future ocean exploration."
Just how many countries actually have the capacity to access and work in the deep ocean? This knowledge is essential to make deep-sea exploration and science more inclusive and equitable. Exploration and research in the 93% of our planet's ocean that lies deeper than 200 m are typically conducted by only a handful of countries with the required financial and personnel resources. Previous studies on deep-sea exploration capacity underrepresented these capabilities by gathering feedback from a limited set of countries.
"The GDSCA is the first comprehensive evidence of persisting and pervasive global gaps in deep-sea exploration and scientific capacity," said Dr. Diva Amon, co-author of the study and marine biologist from Trinidad and Tobago. "Having these inequities laid out in black and white is an essential step in being able to question the adequacy of past and current approaches to capacity development and instead move to meaningful and equitable partnerships that are driven from the start by those who need them most."
Key findings of the assessment include:
Many who consider deep-sea exploration & research important do not have deep-sea tools & technologies: Respondents for numerous subregions, particularly Micronesia, Melanesia, Western Africa, and Eastern Africa, felt that deep-sea exploration & research was considered important in their location but did not have access to the tools needed to do deep-sea work.
In many places, there is expertise but not technology: In every subregion, respondents indicated that the presence of in-country individuals with deep-sea expertise exceeded the availability of deep-sea tools. More access to vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools would activate available expertise to conduct locally-led deep-sea exploration and research.
More deep submergence vehicles are needed globally: Deep submergence vehicles were the technical capacity that had the lowest presence, access, and satisfaction worldwide. More access to lower-cost, easy-to-use technologies suitable for deep water would be transformative globally.
Non-research assets could be available for deep ocean research: While vessels were the technical capacity with the most extensive presence worldwide, in general, vessels were the technical capacity to which respondents had the second-lowest access. Unlocking access to additional vessels for use in research would be transformational.
Funding is the top challenge: Survey respondents identified funding as the single greatest challenge, followed by human capacity and knowledge, access to vessels, and access to deep submergence vehicles to undertake deep-sea research. Low-cost solutions are key to increasing access to the deep sea.
Prioritizing deep-sea exploration is essential: Many respondents felt that their countries did not consider deep-sea research and exploration important. Making stronger internal cases for why deep-sea exploration is critical in each location could be beneficial in securing support.
Tailored strategies are needed for each location: Better understanding of the physical environment can help ensure the greatest return on investment. For example, in Central America, Melanesia, and Western Asia, 75% of all EEZs lie between 200 to 4,000 m, and all African EEZs are less than 6,000 m. Creating deep-ocean technologies and strategies tailored to each location would be more efficient than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Detailed research and inclusion matter: The results of this study were more nuanced than expected. The assessment documented previously underreported details, from the available human capacity to possible vessel access. The very act of including and reaching out to people in locations often under-resourced and overlooked in many global studies created a community and a sense of inclusion that made the effort and detail of this report and future studies of its kind valuable in many ways.
The research was conducted by a global team representing the regions highlighted in the study. "The Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment is a real encouragement and impetus for African countries towards deep-sea exploration," said Otmane Sarti, a participating researcher from Morocco.
From 200 to nearly 11,000 meters below sea level, the deep sea encompasses the single largest—and arguably the most critical—biosphere on Earth. Almost two-thirds of all exclusive economic zones (EEZs) combined have water depths between 2,000 and 6,000 meters, making this a particularly critical depth range to access.
"It is my hope that the 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment will provide the information needed to strategically develop, equitably implement, and quantitatively measure the progress of deep-sea exploration and research capacity development throughout the next decade and beyond," said Dr. Bell.
ODL will continue to monitor changes in deep-sea capacity over the UN Ocean Decade and beyond by conducting the second Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment in 2025-2026 and a third in 2029-2030.
Everyone from marine scientists to machine learning engineers to business leaders has a role in supporting global deep-sea research and exploration efforts. Whether coding new tools, training new deep-sea researchers, or leading an expedition, it will take many skills to achieve these goals. We invite you to visit the Ocean Discovery League at www.oceandiscoveryleague.org to learn more about our current projects.
About Ocean Discovery League
Ocean Discovery League aims to remove barriers to equity in deep-sea exploration by developing low-cost deep-sea technologies, creating AI-driven data analysis tools, and building capacity with historically excluded communities. With a growing global population and increasing anthropogenic pressures on Earth, the time for innovative initiatives to explore, understand, and share the full depths of the oceans is now. We need to invest in new technologies, research methods, and social systems to transform what it means to explore and discover in the 21st century. By creating a suite of low-cost, distributed tools and supporting a community of explorers around the globe, we will make significantly more progress in understanding our planet than ever before. Follow us online at www.oceandiscoveryleague.org and on Twitter as @OceanDiscLeague.
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